Snacks Tonight #27

September 25, 2019


Today I made a gorgeous apple tart. (All my posts today are about food it seems)

In Praise of Older Diners

September 25, 2019

The Everloving and I went for breakfast today at the Skylight on Commercial. Nothing newsworthy about that; we go there on a regular basis.  However, it was special because the Skylight is going to close later this week, with Eva and her husband retiring after working so hard there for more than twenty years.  The closing saddens us but, unfortunately, extends a series of such closures.

I love a cooked breakfast, and I particularly love eating a cooked breakfast in inexpensive diners.  When I first moved to the Drive in the early 1990s, and living on Graveley, I almost immediately discovered Grant Cafe at 1464 Commercial. The fact that it was positioned at the intersection of Commercial & Grant was a pure coincidence, the cafe having been opened in 1951 by Wally and Gladys Grant at 1501 Commercial. In those days, it was anything but a lowly diner. On its opening, the Highland Echo praised its “unusually pleasant wallpaper design.”  After several changes of ownership, the Cafe moved across the street in May 1968 and by the following year was advertising itself as “The Place Where The Elite To Eat.”   However, it went through another series of owners in the 1970s and 1980s and, by the time it became my regular haunt, it had become a down-at-heel diner.  I thought it was great — the sausages were especially good as I recall — and I was devastated when it closed in 1996.

Luckily, I had already found a substitute. A restaurant called Greek Express had been opened in the Il Mercato mall in 1995. It operated in the space west of Van City and served both breakfast and lunch. The owner was a grumpy old sod but it had the very best coffee I have tasted and the same with their rye toast.  Even better, perhaps, was the gorgeous smell that they produced and which saturated the interior foyer of the mall.  Unlike say McDonalds where the sickening greasy smell keeps me away, the aroma of the Greek Express was sweet and delightful. Even when I didn’t stop for breakfast, I used to walk through the mall just to enjoy the atmosphere. v At the end of 2000, we moved from Graveley to Adanac, and so the Greek Express became less convenient as a daily stop. However, if I had business at the credit union or SuperValu, say, I made sure to have breakfast at the old place, until they too closed in 2010.

Meanwhile, we had discovered the Skylight within walking distance of our new home.  For a couple of years in the early 2010s, I split my breakfast custom between them and the regrettably short-lived Adelines, but the Skylight has been our regular go-to place for the last twenty years.  They have friendly service, great coffee, the best corned beef hash I ever ate, and a large cadre of regular customers, many of whom have become nodding acquaintances at the least.  During school terms, it is filled at lunch time with Britannia students, and I wonder where they will go when they want something better than a slice of pizza.

We are sad, for ourselves, that our favourite diner is closing. But at the same time, we congratulate Eva and her family on their retirement; they have earned it and I hope they enjoy their rest.




Image: Pier In Foggy Red

September 25, 2019

Curry as an English Masterpiece

September 25, 2019

Many people will know that several of the most popular “Chinese” dishes served in North American restaurants are in fact American inventions based more or less on Chinese ingredients and techniques. Fewer, perhaps, will know that the same can be said about “Indian” food, with British taste as the instigator.

I learned more than I ever knew before about the origins and development of curry from this wonderful article from NPR.

Growing up in London in the 1950s and 1960s, eating Indian was just becoming a big deal for young experimental palates. They came into fashion a year or so after Chinese had become popular. When I moved to Manchester around 1970 I was wonderfully surprised to discover curried chips as an option in the fish & chip shops.

Whenever I travelled back to the UK since the 1980s, I always knew there would be a decent “curry house” somewhere close to where I was visiting, no matter what part of the country. They were more common in smaller towns and villages than a pub with decent food.

A surprising (to me) tid-bit:

“More than 80 percent of of curry house owners in the UK can trace their roots back to Sylhet, a city in the east of what is now Bangladesh, [Lizzie] Collingham explains in [her book] Curry. Sylhet’s waterways were key to trade during the Raj, hundreds of Sylhetis ended up working on British steamships. “They often had the horrible jobs of working in the engine rooms,” Collingham says. “So quite a lot of them tended to jump ship. They had a tough time finding work in England, and many of them ended up in restaurant kitchens. “Some of these immigrants saved up enough money to then open their own restaurants.”

Group dynamics is a fascinating thing:  That percentage of British curry makers from a single Bangladeshi city reminds me that a majority of the Chinese who settled in Vancouver in the 20th century came from a very limited geographic area in China, or so I believe, and a large majority of nail estheticians (manicurists) in western North America are, or were trained by, Vietnamese boat people from California refugee camps. No connection meant other than seeing very specific groups of people fanning out to conquer odd bits of the world.